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Emily Welker, Published November 15 2013

Hope community helps in rescue of man trapped under 3-ton tractor; circle of trucks lights up area for LifeFlight helicopter

HOPE, N.D. – One thing was on LeRoy Richards’ mind when he was waiting for help while lying at the bottom of a pit near here with an overturned 5,800-pound tractor on top of him.

“The first thing was, he was going to fill that pit in” when he got out, said his wife, Cindy.

Richards, who was hauling a load of weeds last Saturday to a garbage pit a quarter of a mile away from his home near here, got a little too close to the edge. The tractor flipped, dumping Richards and pinning him.

Cindy Richards, who was babysitting the couple’s two small nephews, said she started getting a bad feeling about 5:30. By 6, he still hadn’t come in for dinner.

“I went outside and yelled and there was no answer,” she said. “The pickup was there, but the tractor was gone. Right away, I knew something was wrong.”

She called her brother, Lyle Knight, who then called LeRoy Richards’ brother Dale, who is Knight’s neighbor in Finley and a co-worker.

Knight said he and his wife, Jenny, followed Dale Richards the 9 miles out to the pit where they found LeRoy Richards. Knight said Dale jumped into the pit to talk to LeRoy, followed by Knight’s wife. Knight called 911, which called out the Hope fire and rescue and Finley fire and rescue.

Neighbors started to arrive as they waited for a LifeFlight helicopter crew to touch down. About 100 of them came, a little less than half the population of nearby Hope, which is about 50 miles northwest of Fargo in Steele County.

Cindy Richards knew most and was related to some, but there were a lot of faces she didn’t know.

“People saw the flashing lights and came in to see if they could help,” she said.

Many of their vehicles were pickups, which the drivers arranged in a ring around the pit facing forward, so their lights would illuminate rescue effort.

“The medic said she had never seen anything like it in her life,” Cindy Richards said.

The LifeFlight crew could see the ring of lights on the prairie from miles away, she said.

“There’s no way I could ever have expected this. … I appreciate each and every one of them very much.”

Rescuers freed Richards from under the 1210 David Brown tractor shortly after 8 p.m., using a hydraulic jack and a system of airbags. The steering wheel had to be cut away, Cindy Richards said, and he was conscious throughout the rescue.

Both lower bones of his arm were broken and his right ear was mangled. His liver was bruised, and his left leg, which was pinned under the steering wheel, was swollen and not working correctly.

Richards is at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo recovering. Doctors haven’t said for sure when he can come home, but it will be at least six weeks before he can go back to work at Swanson Health products in Fargo.

A benefit fund has been established through Citizens State Bank in Finley.

The pit LeRoy Richards spent those pain-filled hours planning to fill in may have helped him to avoid more serious injuries, doctors told his wife. The bottom was soft, which kept him from being crushed worse under the tractor’s nearly 3-ton weight.

Cindy Richards asked him if filling in the pit was the only thing he was thinking about. No, he said. He was also thinking about how nice it would be when she finally came to get him.

He told her, “I knew you would come. I just knew it would take a while, ’cause you had the boys.”

How to help: Benefit Fund

Citizens State Bank

300 Central Ave., Box 255

Finley, ND 58230-0255

Checks can be made to: Donations for LeRoy Richards


Readers can reach Forum reporter

Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541